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2013 XPoNential Music Festival

Saturday Mash-up

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“What you thought was a hurricane was just the rustling of the wind/ Why’d you think we need Amazing Grace just to tell it like it is?” – Dr. Dog

Few videographers capture the essence of a musical experience better than our man in Philadelphia Jake Krolick, who crossed the Delaware River to brave New Jersey to cover the 2013 XPoNential Music Festival. What separates Krolick from the pack is his foundation as a live music lover first, down to picking up on the surrounding atmosphere that dances with what’s happening onstage. His gift for brevity and well chosen moments is on display here with choice bits of the Wiggins Park on the Waterfront woven together with performances from The Last Bison, Dr. John, Lord Huron, Trampled By Turtles and Dr. Dog. Once again, Krolick allows us to dangle our toes in the experience even if we were far, far away at the time. For photos and Jake’s review of the fest pop over here.

Mix Tape

Stoned Mixology – Heavy Sauce

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Music put together under the influence for the edification and amusement of those both under the influence and otherwise…

Nothing too fancy this time, just the usual attempt to get the past to talk to the present and the present to talk to the past. And maybe offer a few tasty morsels to stick in your philosophical and mental bindle for the road ahead. Also, this sounds nice when you’re high.

Track listing below. If you experience playback problems pop over to the mix page and it should play fine.

Stoned Mixology: Heavy Sauce from dirtyimpound on 8tracks Radio.

track listing

Mix Tape

Snack Time V

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When we were young, radio was a blessing, something one turned on to find a smile, a comforting shoulder, or just a nifty tune that made the world shine a bit brighter for a few minutes. Those days – very sadly – are largely past with the commercial radio programming of today, but we at Dirty Impound like to conjecture what a better radio world might sound like. Our fifth installment in this daydream offers Beatles covers, Richard Thompson tackling a Squeeze hit, fresh new talent right at the top, and more with ample nods to the 70s AM radio magnificence of our youth.

Listen to this mix HERE. Track listing below.

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track listing

We'll Do It Live

Outside Lands 2012

08.10.12 & 08.12.12 | San Francisco, CA

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Huge photo gallery below highlights!

Gopher at Outside Lands 2012 by John Margaretten

Gopher at Outside Lands 2012 by John Margaretten

Dialed in – that’s the most succinct way one can describe the 2012 installment of Outside Lands. The fifth installment of the three-day music, food and arts gathering in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park had nearly every element down this year, having learned and refined the flow of humanity and entertainment from previous years so that even when crowds were sizeable things moved along fairly smoothly. Already one of the West Coast’s best weekends, this year Outside Lands secured its place amongst the finest festivals happening in the U.S. today.

By not overselling tickets – though all three days in 2012 sold out – and putting as much care into the atmosphere and sustenance as they do the lineup choices, Outside Lands cemented its unique personality – hip, young, tuned-in, foodies, urban, tech savvy – this round, where the mingling of savory things on forks, good wine, and forward thinking music all worked together for a really fine time. And yes, there are still children with flowers in their hair in the Park, but most were also rocking earbuds for their MP3 player or smart phone, too.

7 Highlights From Outside Lands 2012

Ranger Dave at Outside Lands 2012 by John Margaretten

Ranger Dave at Outside Lands 2012 by John Margaretten

1. Golden Gate Park
The justifiably famous park is a verdant, rolling landscape that contributes a great deal to the fest’s character. Every stage is ringed by trees and the shifting, blue-grey sky, and once one passes through the gates there is an unmistakable sense of visiting “somewhere” different than the norm. The near total absence of concrete and open, grassy expanses in front of each stage create the illusion one has left the city, yet just a few blocks away all of SF’s riches await. Yes, getting 70,000 or so people in and out of this space can be a traffic/logistical nightmare, but the organizers and the city get a bit better each year – helped a great deal by the now-seasoned regulars who know well enough to leave their cars at home for the most part.

2. Food Truck Culture
Some of the most innovative cooking today is happening on wheels. SF was an early adopter of this culture, and for the past two years Outside Lands has welcomed these purveyors of lamb poutine and sea salt & mocha cream cupcakes. Instead of situating all the trucks in the same meadow as in 2011, this year found pockets of food trucks in several spots. It’s a hell of an improvement over most music fests to be able to score quality Korean tacos, artisan pizzas, buttermilk fried chicken sandwiches with jalapeno slaw and more, and most of it not outrageously priced for the setting (no one being realistic should expect bargain prices). Feeding the body as well as the spirit and mind is clearly a priority for the organizers.

Metallica at Outside Lands 2012 by John Margaretten

Metallica at Outside Lands 2012 by John Margaretten

3. Best Headliners In Festival History
With no disrespect meant to past main stage headliners like Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Pearl Jam and Radiohead, this year’s trio of Neil Young and Crazy Horse (Friday), Metallica (Saturday) and Stevie Wonder (Sunday) delivered the goods in a really palpable, super fun way that transcended performances to be truly special experiences. One thing Outside Lands excels at is honoring Bay Area favorites, and that’s never been accomplished more successfully than with Crazy Horse and Metallica, who both enjoy rabid, extensive lifelong fan bases in the SF region. These are local heroes, and as such they dug a bit deeper than a regular show with heartfelt performances that reached inside their catalogues for fan favorites, new material and beloved gems. Steve Wonder, well, he’s just a party every time out, and it’s always a kick to be in a massive audience that knows the words to every song and belts them out without reservation. Oh, Metallica wins the trophy for most absorbing, pyrotechnics filled stage production of the weekend. Thanks for the lasers, dudes!

4. Tame Impala
While a fair amount of attendees may have been unfamiliar with Australian import Tame Impala, the sheer force and unctuous charm of their Saturday afternoon main stage performance surely ensnared a LOT of new fans. With only one official album (2010’s Innerspeaker) and a sophomore slab not due until this October, Tame Impala made their case purely on the strength of their music and live presence. With a bassist wearing a KISS tee and playing a vintage Rickenbacker bass, it was obvious this young band draws inspiration from a number of sources to create their heady mélange – a bit classic rock, a bit Stone Roses rave-up, a touch Nuggets psychedelic, and a whole lot of sharp, memorable (even XTC-ish in spots) songwriting. What they offered was a sound too massive, too soulfully crunchy and undulating, to be contained inside walls and ceilings. Hearing them in GG Park was a sublime reminder of how music affects the body, and in this instance, in a wholly positive way.

White Denim at Outside Lands 2012 by John Margaretten

White Denim at Outside Lands 2012 by John Margaretten

5. Sutro Stage Friday Lineup
If White Denim, Sharon Van Etten, Reggie Watts, The Walkmen, Of Monsters and Men, and Andrew Bird aren’t already on your radar they should be. Soon. From the top of the day head-charge of White Denim to the strange pop of Andrew Bird at sunset, the Sutro Stage in Lindley Meadow was a ringing confirmation of the booking skills at Outside Lands. These six acts neatly encapsulate where popular music is headed in the years ahead, artists young enough to be tuned into today’s pulse but smart enough to mine the past for every little good thing they can unearth. Whether one was already a fan or hearing any of these performers for the first time, the music spoke for itself in every instance – immediate, intelligent, engaged and free from the snarky cynicism and posing that infect so much modern rock. And while they all resonated on a shared, forward-moving frequency, each differed, often wildly, in tone and style. If one wanted diversity and fresh grist for their listening mill they couldn’t have done better than the Sutro Stage on Friday.

6. Grandaddy
Rumor has it that it was a healthy financial offer from Outside Lands that got this pioneering 90s/early 2000s band back together. While that’s often a recipe for a flat, doing-it-for-the-money performance, Grandaddy sounded utterly fantastic, a shimmering reminder of how much ground they broke that LOTS of Pitchfork adored bands are getting undeserved credit for these days. These guys are the tillers and cultivators that began the organic synthesis of synths and electric guitars so prevalent now, but there’s a tightness and blippy rightness to Grandaddy their copyists will never know. And if one doubts this, well, their Outside Lands set [and by all reports, the late night gig at The Independent the next day, too] gave empirical proof that this is a band worth serious reassessment. The songs universally hold up, sounding as fresh as anything coming out this week AND doing them one better by weaving in lovely melodies and incisive lyrical insights. The take away, at least for this writer, from Outside Lands was Grandaddy is one of THE premiere modern rock bands of the past 25 years. Bandleader/mastermind Jason Lytle remarked onstage, “I lost a lot of sleep wondering how this was gonna work out. It seems to be working out fine.” The fist in the air from guitarist Jim Fairchild that accompanied this comment lends hope to the idea that this reunion may stick and we can look forward to more from them down the line. Fingers are crossed.

Die Antwoord Fan at Outside Lands 2012 by John Margaretten

Die Antwoord Fan at Outside Lands 2012 by John Margaretten

7. The Attendees
Face it, too many festivals draw a rowdy, drink spilling element that’s there more to get trashed (and trash things) than to enjoy the music. Outside Lands, for lack of a better word, is a touch more sophisticated. Sure, the rave-ready teens seemed hell-bent on craziness during Die Antwoord’s set and pouring in and out of the DJ dance dome, but they largely followed one of DI’s cardinal festival rules – i.e. don’t let your good time ruin someone else’s good time.

There’s much less random, stupid hooting and screaming in the crowd, and for the most part, people apologized if they bumped into you. A little civility goes a long way in this increasingly tribal, us-vs.-them world, and it only added to one’s ability to really soak in the quality music and grub at Outside Lands. While this fest draws a fairly young audience, they don’t have the same snotty, hipper-than-thou vibe one picks up on at Lollapalooza, Coachella and other tastemaker festivals. Folks just seem to be happy being in Golden Gate Park, being themselves and enjoying the many shiny things and tasty morsels that grab their attentions. Lot of smiles at this one, and it makes the Impound grin to think back on this weekend – an annual event we’re now marking in ink on our calendars.

Dirty Impound is proud to present this mood-capturing gallery from lensman extraordinaire John Margaretten


Salting The Wound: A Soundtrack For The Occupy Movement

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‘Salty’ mix tape below essay

If I had a hammer I’d break every fucking copy of “If I Had A Hammer (The Hammer Song).” I got nothing against Pete Seeger but traditional protest folk music has always grated against my sensibilities – its abject earnestness, its flagrant moral superiority, its sing-along simplicity. The people writing and singing this kind of music are selling Bibles in a church parking lot. Without question it can be effective but if one hasn’t drunk the Kool-Aid it’s not especially useful or even welcome even if one agrees with the basic sentiments.

The growing proliferation of classic folkies (and their modern descendents) showing up at Zuccotti Park – Joan Baez, Crosby & Nash, Tom Morello, Peter Yarrow, and Seeger himself – got me thinking about the differences between this movement’s character and the 1960s civil rights uprisings and where music fits in. The ideas of Seeger’s omnipresent anthem remain sound – “I’d hammer out danger/ I’d hammer out a warning/ I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters” – but the tone is all wrong for the young generation rubbing sand in Wall Street’s Vaseline. The cynicism and broad pop culture understanding of the majority of folks pitching tents and mic checking across the U.S. (and now the entire planet) can’t be underestimated. A profound distrust of ANY power structure is central to the Occupy Movement, seen most obviously in the adamant refusal to designate official leaders and figureheads. They understand how even a bit of power is almost always inherently corrupting in this messed up system we find ourselves awash in.

As someone whose political and social awakening was ushered in as a high school student during the Reagan years, I’ve always had a more combative attitude than most traditional leftie protesters. I’m not endorsing violence but I’m attracted to scrappers, people willing to get bloodied by the powers that be, smiling as they stand in the face of dumbness and overreaching authority, a posture that screams, “Come on, motherfuckers, let’s throw down!” without ever needing to throw a punch. Punk rock provided the coal for my young engine, particularly the snarky insights of the Dead Kennedys, the never-dumb-it-down polemics of Bad Religion, and especially the hugely diverse musical sweep and utterly wise yet often funny directness of The Clash.

I’m a generation removed from the college students and similarly dispossessed youth spearheading the Occupy Movement but it’s hard to believe they’ve grown more comfortable with traditional protest music’s platitudes and often painful sincerity. In a broad sense, folks involved in the Occupy Movement are pissed off – massively and achingly pissed off and not entirely clear where to aim their anger, fear and frustration. Some targets are easy – Wall Street, Congress – but at this early stage one of the only things there’s consensus on is there’s something wrong and something must be done about it. Simply giving voice to these feelings – a thunderous, wounded shout from the streets – is actually enough for now.

Ginsberg understood this, his famous Howl beginning, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,” and concluding, “In my dreams you walk dripping from a sea-journey on the highway across America in tears to the door of my cottage in the Western night.” He’s describing the long road through personal pain that becomes public pain, a stabbing discomfort that must be expressed aloud, and in doing so one discovers that they are not alone, that they share common ground and common cause with people they would likely have never known, the “others” on the other side of our many fences that look and act and dream and suffer just like us.

It’s said the greatest lie the Devil ever pulled off is to make us believe he doesn’t exist. The power mongers in the financial sector and the government don’t want the system discussed. They don’t want to hear about the reality of their choices from the people living the society they’ve engineered. Nick Cave once observed:

Money, man, it is a bitch
The poor, they spoil it for the rich
With my face pressed in the clover
I wondered when this would be over
And at home we are all so guilty-sad

Right now at what is hopefully the start of real, immensely needed change for the 99-percent, what’s required are songs that angry up the blood, anthems to make the homebound hit the parks and plazas and lend their numbers and voices to a cause that might just overturn the apple cart so the majority can get a bite of the harvest…or simply feed their children…or feel like what they do and desire matters and is reflected in a larger sense by our culture. The values and concerns of the vast majority are at direct odds with the existing power structure yet a sizeable chunk of the populace remains unmoved, the suffering and crazy-making unfairness of it all still kept at a comfortable distance so reality doesn’t have to sink in, oblivious to how one job loss, a few late mortgage payments, a contested medical claim, or any of a thousand other inevitable turns of fate are the only thing standing between them and the laissez-faire, market-worshipping world outside their window.

Where we find ourselves today isn’t an accident. It is a series of fiendishly interconnected, heartlessly constructed systems designed to fuck anyone who isn’t privy to their inner workings. Lip service Christians and vote courtin’ politicians spouting truisms about the generosity and kindness of the American people aren’t talking about the dillholes at the top of the heap. No one who lives in that high place and refuses a 6-percent tax hike so that bridges don’t collapse and the poorest of us can eat breakfast and get an education has any claim to compassion. There’s still a resistance to call out the people who are working day and night to keep their white-knuckled grip on power and riches for being as callous and short-sighted as they are. Well, this soundtrack aims to do just that, and I hope it prods anyone who listens to it to some action for the greater good.

Track Notes

1. Know Your Rights – The Clash
“You have the right to remain silent/ You are warned that anything you say can and will be taken down and used as evidence against you.” Combat Rock arrived in 1982, and the subject matter of this track was old news then. America is still not living up to its ideals in reality. No one deserves investigation or humiliation to put bread on their table.

2. I Party All The Time – Gang of Four
“We are not prisoners – although we’re putting in the hours/ We are not innocent – although we’re singing in the choir/ If there’s a revolution then you’ll stay home.” It’s hard to stop living a carefree, oblivious existence, especially when it’s so easy to have fun.

3. Binge And Purge – Clutch
“I’ve got nothing to lose but my apathy.” Once you figure out that the guns – literal and metaphorical – are pointed at you it really focuses one’s attention. A fight song for those that don’t yet realize they’re in a battle.

4. Before You Die – Bad Religion
“Rewrite the morals, rectify the nation/ Now may be your time.” We’ve only so many hours before we shuffle off this mortal coil and what we do with them matters – for today and for the tomorrows those we love live after us. Think about it and act accordingly.

5. A Young Man’s Money – Ivan Julian
“See, we can get this and that in every which way/ But we get the same thing right or wrong/ I think about it all the time/ And wrap my cage around me.” A snarling inducement to knock the mold off musty, crippling systems.

6. Welcome To The Factory – Backyard Tire Fire
“You’re locked on the clock/ You’re ready to blow/ And nobody knows.” The grind and workaday desperation of repetitive labor whirrs in this gutbucket wail from one of Illinois’ best bands.

7. The Power’s Out – Flogging Molly
“Forgive me for dreaming it’s all I have left/ Except this pending foreclosure and mountains of debt.” Detroit shines as a beacon of what market/corporate thinking produces in the end, a cautionary tableau of where the rest of America is going if we continue on our current path. Kudos to Dave King and the rest of Flogging Molly for hunkering down in the Motor City to record their fantastically timely new album Speed of Darkness (Impound review). This is a thumb in the eye of blood sucking leech CEOs everywhere.

8. Zombie Blues – The Denmark Veseys
“Zombies in the blue states and zombies in the red/ Just another country of the living dead/ There are zombies of all colors, black and brown and white/ There are zombies on the left and zombies on the right/ There are zombies that have money and zombies who are poor/ And they’re brandishing Kalashnikovs and mopping up the floor.” Jerry Joseph is wise in many ways and the guy pulls NO punches, including the haymakers he throws at himself. Being honest about our own role in sustaining a poisonous system is important.

9. Hard Day On The Planet – Loudon Wainwright III
“Don’t turn on the TV, don’t show me the paper/ Don’t want to know he got kidnapped or why they all raped her/ I want to go on vacation till the pressure lets up.” Pretending things aren’t “tough all over on Earth” isn’t going to make the problems go away.

10. Things Goin’ On – Lynyrd Skynyrd
“Well, they’re goin’ ruin the air we breathe/ Lord have mercy/ They’re gonna ruin us all, by and by/ I’m telling all you beware/ I don’t think they really care.” Ronnie Van Zant was a deeper rabble-rouser than his legacy suggests. This call to “stand up and scream” comes from the band’s 1973 debut and is but one of many insightful blows he landed before his too, too early demise.

11. Funky Dollar Bill – Funkadelic
“It’ll buy you a life but not a true life/ The kind of life where the soul is lost.” What do we value as a country? Is it a quarterly profit guarantee or is it clean water, art, caring for the sick and needy? The almighty dollar can be used for good or ill, but it’s only a tool for the humans pushing it around. What do YOU want to make with this tool?

12. This Fucking Job – Drive-By Truckers
“Working this job is like a knife in the back/ It ain’t getting me further than the dump I live in/ It ain’t getting me further than my next paycheck.” The sense that we’re stuck and there is zero chance of improvement is creeping into our bones. We’re losing the belief that there’s anything else other than what we’ve got. It’s a lie, but changing the dynamics of day-to-day existence for the majority isn’t going to come quickly or easily.

13. ¡Let Freedom Ring! – Chuck Prophet
“Let there be darkness, let there be light/ As the hawk cripples the dove/ Over and over watch the dove die as they rip out the floorboards of love.” How we define a word is crucial. Even Fox News clatters endlessly about “American freedom” but what does it actually mean to be ‘free’ in the current context? Chuck dissects the double plus good rhetoric with humor and deft skill here.

14. I’m Gonna Assemble A City – These United States
“I’m gonna assemble a city right in the heart of their war/ I’m gonna sit in my lawn chair as the missiles and maggots bore/ I’m gonna sit in my lawn chair with a pointed but good-natured grin, letting the strangers that pass know they are always welcome to come in.” The launch of the Occupy Movement in New York City and the way the community evolved in Zuccotti Park is mirrored in this prescient number from 2009’s Everything Touches Everything, which is filled with hymns for kind revolutionaries everywhere.

15. Old News – Dr. Dog
“We’ve been toiling our tears hit the soil/ Taking up a voice from a flower field of noise.” A kiss to those sleeping in the street and dreaming loud enough for all to hear. It really is time to wrap up our old blues and toss them away.

16. Take ‘Em Down – Dropkick Murphys
“When the boss comes calling, don’t believe their lies.” This pro-union corker got some attention from NPR and elsewhere earlier this year but it’s not about one state or one boss – it’s about who we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with. The folks in power – almost to a one – aren’t interested in sharing that power and privilege, and it will take the might of the many to pry it from their hands.

17. Mean Streak – John Gorka
“No money coming in/ It’s all going out/ I’m standing on the corner/ In the shadow of doubt.” Things feel desperate for an increasing number of people. What stability we possess seems tenuous at best, and even if we don’t know how we’ll manage we cannot let the powers that be continue to take advantage of the 99-percent.

18. Is This Thing Working? – Todd Snider
“”You gonna hit somebody, today? You gonna hit me too/ In fact, you’re gonna hit me every day, because now I’m picking on you.” People who would steal pensions, starve the hungry and condemn the sick to die are bullies. People who compensate themselves to tune of thousands of times what the average worker in their company makes are bullies. The folks Occupy is confronting are thugs and jerks and bullies, and part of why they and the mainstream media and Mayor Bloomberg (and mayors like him) are upset is they’ve been exposed. They’ve been stealing our lunch money for decades and they don’t want to stop. Well, a hearty fuck you to all of them. Now we’re picking on you.

19. Can We Really Party Today? – Jonathan Wilson
“With all that’s going on/ shouldn’t we get started today?” Again, distraction and personal pleasure are wonderful opiates. The rise of video game culture and pocketsize entertainment in general is not an accident. It’s nicer to take a hike in the woods and pop open a sixer with one’s pals, but there’s important shit to be done. Let’s not forget that.

20. Last Year – Akron/Family
“Last year was such a hard year/ For such a long time/ This year’s gonna be ours.” A simple, open-ended chant for the Occupy Movement as 2011 nears its close. Keep up the charge and 2012 might just be our year.

Mix Tape

Sunday Brunch I

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Once a month, the Impound will serve up a consciously gentle assortment to soundtrack the weekend waking of our readers. This inaugural edition includes two old songs that seem eerily timely from John Hartford and Gerry Rafferty, one of Elton John’s best moments, sweet covers of CSN (Cosmic Rough Riders) and Dolly Parton (Ida) and other tunes handpicked to ease you into the sunrise. Coffee’s on. It’s going to be a wonderful day…

If you experience playback problems, pop over to the 8tracks mix page and it should play fine.

track listing


Dirty Impound's Best Albums of 2010

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2010 was a VERY good year for rock ‘n’ roll. As much as I love a somewhat ludicrous range of music (not many see the charms of both MDC and Barry Manilow), it’s always good ol’ rock that tickles my aging heart the mostest. And my ticker has been palpatatin’ like a sprinter on Columbian blue flake in 2010. Artists are increasingly making the music in their souls instead of playing to any outside sensibility. Changes in how music reaches people and how it’s digested have sparked a quiet revolution where the producers are able to directly connect with consumers in ways hitherto unimaginable. The long defended middle man mentality of the record industry is falling away, and while many people remain lazy in their listening, happily gobbling up whatever the powers that be tell them to – things like Gaga and Bieber don’t happen organically – there’s a growing constituency that’s seeking out what they genuinely dig, the music that informs and illuminates their lives. If you’re hanging around the Impound then you’re one of these folks, and we commend you for making an effort!

This list represents the best albums I came across in the hundreds of new releases I checked out in 2010. One of the key criteria used for this list was how the music hung together as an album, an entity unique and inextricably intertwined in ways beyond a random assortment of tracks, which the mainstream largely thinks passes for an album in the 21st century. Despite the fragmentation of music in recent years, there are still artists dedicated to creating works that add up to more than the sum of their parts, works that dream big, ask essential questions and even offer a few answers. Each of these albums grapples with the world in a unique way, offering shading and perspective beyond what we might achieve on our own. They embiggen our lives, offer new keys for unlocking life’s complexities and even inspire a measure of joy in some cases. In every instance, these albums made my world – and not a few others’ – richer and more interesting – a gift each time the proverbial needle hit the groove.

Dirty Impound’s 20 Best Albums of 2010

ALO: Man of the World (Brushfire Records)

If pop music were measured by the yardstick of Man of the World then commercial radio might be worth paying attention to. ALO write classic songs and deliver them in a very easy to like manner. And it doesn’t hurt that the whole thing is so nicely captured (ALO co-produced with old pal Jack Johnson with studio whiz kid Dave Simon-Baker engineering the sessions); this record is just a pleasure to listen to. They are a perfect example of what I call “If The Beatles Really Won” music. Resounding craftsmanship underlies every track here, along with a refreshing sense of sincerity, realism and hope. When this Bay Area band says “I Love Music” they mean it and make us feel it, too.

Antioquia: My piano ate the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle (self-released)

Revolutions that dance succeed. SF’s Antioquia possess a distinct socio-political bent but shimmy about like kids on Pixie sticks and Kool-Aid as they prod and peel away at entrenched infrastructures. Echoes of Fela, Pere Ubu and Talking Heads ping around in their sound, but none so much to overshadow the original voice rising in this young band. Where headlines scream of bloodshed and despair, Antioquia shouts back something brighter, a blaze born of humanity’s innate vitality and drive towards freedom, connection and purpose.

Bad Religion: The Dissent of Man (Epitaph)

30 years on, Bad Religion has maintained their hot, angry core but surrounded it with a sophistication and tight musicianship worthy of The Clash – arguably the benchmark for any punk group with evolutionary aspirations. The three guitar frontline of Brett Gurewitz, Greg Hetson and Brian Baker is lethal and almost impossibly uncluttered, simply the pointy teeth of this beast. Greg Graffin remains the brainiest, best lead singer punk has produced in the past 30 years, and the rhythm section of bassist Jay Bentley and drummer Brooks Wackerman (brother of Chad) are indestructible and ever-potent. There’s still plenty to be pissed off about and Bad Religion still expresses that better than almost anyone, but now they also churn out non-mushy relationship songs and offer an honest glimmer of positivity.

Band of Horses: Infinite Arms (Columbia)

One of the greatest driving records in recent memory – a smoothly unfolding, mightily melodic, warm soundtrack for eating miles and chasing horizons. While the Horses’ first two albums held numerous fine moments, Infinite Arms is their most together outing to date, dialing back the emotional tenor and pushing their songwriting into fresh dynamics. Moving to the country seems to suit Ben Bridwell and his finally solidified band, their music taking on greater landscape and environmental vibration whilst they ply a very vinyl-minded kind of rock.

Delta Spirit: History From Below (Rounder)

Full of salt in wounds and scarecrows, Delta Spirit’s sophomore record revealed an emotional maturity and musical sophistication only hinted at on their 2008 debut, Ode To Sunshine. With My Morning Jacket’s Bo Koster playing keys and co-producing with Everest’s secret weapon, Elijah Thomson, History is a densely structured journey through heavy thoughts and feelings that somehow manages to be uplifting despite its clear-eyed honesty. An achingly beautiful work.

Dr. Dog: Shame, Shame (Anti-)

The fifth long-player from Philly’s finest classic-oriented rock band proved their darkest and most artfully mature outing to date. While the tunes remained catchy as the common cold – true heirs to Lennon and McCartney – the lyrics plumbed the sticky recesses of the human psyche, fearlessly acknowledging that sometimes we want someone to give us a black eye just so we feel something. Yet, so skilled are Dr. Dog that one can’t help but sing along; the real meaning seeping into us subversively, there to haunt us in the quiet hours.

Drive-By Truckers: The Big To-Do (ATO)

After 2008’s sprawling double album Brighter Than Creation’s Dark it was heartening for the Truckers to drop a single dead solid rock slab in our laps. In many ways, this was business as usual, but when you do meat ‘n’ taters rock as well as these Southerners you don’t need to tinker with much. Their gift for characters and cinematically charged scenes rivals Steely Dan, and their gutbucket sophistication equals Ronnie Van Zandt-era Skynyrd. One won’t soon forget – or stop singing along to – tunes like “This Fucking Job,” “Birthday Boy” or really anything else here.

Alejandro Escovedo: Street Songs of Love (Fantasy)

Love, either its flowering or death, will always be subject matter number one for songwriters. However, few will come up with as totally fab a song cycle as Escovedo. Once again working extensively with fellow uber-pros Chuck Prophet and Tony Visconti, Escovedo makes the tried and true topic skip on new, muscular legs, savoring love’s virtues and lamenting its lack in many lives. Folks talk a lot about heart but Street Songs of Love takes a metaphorical rib-spreader and pulls it out so we might all marvel at its mighty thump.

Everest: On Approach (Warner Brothers)

Despite releasing one of the best debuts in the past 10 years, 2008’s Ghost Notes, Los Angeles-based Everest showed a lot more colors and range on their sophomore joint, fulfilling the abundant promise of their live shows with a studio set that’s rangy, raucous and compulsively listenable. Years of opening for admirers MMJ, Wilco and Neil Young have emboldened Everest, giving them a loft and reach beyond their many short-armed peers. Beautifully arranged and played and saturated with feeling, good and bad, On Approach hums with life, guitars ringing under broad skies as one of the finest lead singers today, Russell Pollard, probes into the meat of us. And this just feels like the next step in the maturation of one of today’s classics-in-the-making.

Grinderman: 2 (Anti-)

Nick Cave and Bad Seeds Warren Ellis, Martyn Casey and Jim Sclavunos make an unruly, manly racket in their Grinderman incarnation, a wholly different creature to the brainy, Biblically haunted corridors of their day jobs. Wielding a guitar like a rusty axe, Cave careens through the vicissitudes of aging and particularly the impact of years on one’s phallic potential and sexual appeal. A punk-blues atmosphere pervades some pieces but the second Grinderman offering has greater nuances, though most are prickly and nervous making even in the quietest moments. Cave once again proves one of the great lyricist of our time, giving us lingering verses like, “My baby calls me the Loch Ness Monster/ Two great big humps and then I’m gone/ But actually I am the Abominable Snowman/ I guess that I’ve loved you for too long.” Harrowing, pecker wrecking good times.

Hiss Golden Messenger: Bad Debt (Blackmaps)

Spirituality is a tricky business in this millennium, where zealotry duels with indifference, each imperfect approaches to making the unknowable bearable. Something in us craves understanding and perhaps a child’s desire that the universe is at least a bit kind and ordered. Putting this kind of complexity into songs – particularly stripped bare, mostly acoustic settings – is no easy task, yet Hiss Golden Messenger manages it on an album with the raw immediacy of Johnny Cash’s most harrowing American Recordings and the bare skin of early gospel and field recordings given a scholar’s gloss and contemporary lilt.

Shooter Jennings & Hierophant: Black Ribbons (Rocket Science)

In the greatest reinvention of 2010, Shooter all but abandoned everything he’d done prior to embrace a boundary-free, rock ‘n’ roll infused new approach that yielded arguably the bravest, most interesting song cycle of the past year, an album every bit the equal to anything Radiohead or My Morning Jacket has mustered. Long viewed as “Waylon’s kid,” Shooter reveals himself as one of the most astute observers of the human condition today on Black Ribbons, an Orwellian concept album with Stephen King along as narrator. What’s cool is how well the songs work without the thematic underpinning AND how much they grow in context. The overall sound is tough and dappled with analog keyboards, choice reverb, lyrics that will haunt you, and no small amount of inky black humor. Shooter and Hierophant have all the ingredients to become one seriously amazing band based on this first stunning salvo.

The Moondoggies: Tidelands (Hardly Art)

While not as instantly potent or accessible as their debut, Don’t Be A Stranger, this quintessential grower may be the stronger overall album experience. Allowed to simmer, Tidelands weds The Moondoggies’ forceful arrangements and Crosby, Stills & Nash-esque harmonies to interlocking philosophical concepts and a chugging rock energy that propel one ever-forward, each piece as essential as the ones bumping its edges, the whole thing rich in a way that’ll take years to explore.

The New Up: Gold (The New Up Records)

Simply put, The New Up is one of the best things going in modern rock. The energy of now crackles in their super appealing tunes on Gold, which functions as a gliding, grinding score to today’s hustle ‘n’ bustle – a muddle where emotions often get confused, forced underground out of fear and doubt. This San Francisco bunch excels at divining where these sorts of buried feelings lie, bringing them to the surface with the pop and roar of a welcome geyser. ES Pitcher continues to evolve into one of the strongest women in rock, a voice full of girlish seduction and womanly smarts, and the boys around her ooze cool and curiosity in ways impossible to ignore. And they’ve got most of their modern rock cohorts skunked musicianship wise, too. Total package this one and by all indications, only getting started.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: Mojo (Reprise/WEA)

Considerable fire clearly resides in the bellies of Tom and his Heartbreakers based on the hopping, growling evidence of Mojo, easily the band’s finest hour since perhaps 1987’s Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough). Captured in the band’s rehearsal space with minimal overdubs, Mojo gets one of the greatest live bands ever to bring their massive stage energy into a more focused, condensed setting. The results are scorchers like First Flash of Freedom, I Should Have Known It and the smoldering The Trip To Pirate’s Cove. At 60, Petty is as vital and exciting as he was in his 70s heyday, a model for other songwriters and bandleaders well worth mimicking.

Powder Mill: Money, Marbles and Chalk (Powder Mill Music)

With their third full-length Powder Mill cemented their place in the Southern Rock pantheon, joining recent inductees like the North Mississippi Allstars and the Drive-By Truckers. However, Powder Mill is more gloriously Southern, reveling in the mythology and daily culture of the region and using it as a sharp lens on a country in the throes of wild change and conflict, a place where the factories are shutting down and whole towns are left to wallow and self-medicate as the world moves on without them. Money, Marbles and Chalk mines the humanity in our shared struggles, puts a face on those we may have missed, perhaps especially those living right next to us. This corker is rockin’ and righteous and good for a laugh or three, country as a motherfucker and armed with riffs that leave a bruise.

The Roots: How I Got Over (Def Jam)

Well worth the two year wait, How I Got Over confirmed The Roots as the premiere live band in hip-hop (their only real competition is under-sung Asheville greats GFE) and the torchbearers for what Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson, Sly & The Family Stone, Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway started long ago. Unlike most of the boasting, money obsessed, ass-chasing twaddle that passes for hip-hop lately, How I Got Over is culturally relevant in a substantive way and musically savvy and advanced in ways Diddy, et al. will never be. Nothing here goes for flash, instead building each tune by layers, each touch carefully chosen and executed, down to working way outside genre norms with folks like Joanna Newsome and Monsters of Folk. The final product is sublime and stirring, a triumph in a career already filled with them.

Otis Taylor: Clovis People, Vol. 3 (Telarc)

Though often sequestered in the blues category by lazy listeners and critics, Otis Taylor has spent the past 15 years steadily growing into one of the most original, fascinating musicians on earth. His work takes the African roots of the blues and weaves them into all manner of American music – snippets of country twang bumping against Dixieland and rock – and pushing further over time into classical forms, flamenco and more. He’s taken the banjo back from the white man and he’s waded into modal jazz with Jason Moran. That said, Clovis People, Vol. 3 (there is no volumes 1 & 2, by the way) is perhaps his bluesiest collection in years, revisiting some earlier numbers and carving something raw and new out of them. But these are Otis’ blues, so each is flecked with the misbehaved, lovely pedal steel of Chuck Campbell and the bright, penetrating cornet of Ron Miles. Underneath it all, the feeling soaked bass work and captivating harmonies of daughter Cassie Taylor float, sparring fantastically with Gary Moore’s electric guitar and intuitive timekeeper Larry Thompson. Often spare on details, these songs live up to Otis’ notion that “The more words you put into a song, the less freedom the listener has to decide what it means.”

These United States: What Lasts (United Interests)

Gasping for air and struggling to rise above the mounting waves, These United States’ fourth release directly engaged with that toughest of nuts to crack – mortality. Try as we might – atheist and believer alike – there’s no sidestepping Death, but the moves we make with him matter, and TUS discovers some pretty nifty steps for the living on What Lasts. Musically, it’s continued growth, combining the best elements of Crimes and Everything Touches Everything for hooky, rootsy rock that also abides beautifully. For as tumultuous as the subject can be, What Lasts is ultimately rejuvenating, a skipping reminder to the living to get out there and live.

Paul Weller: Wake up The Nation (Yep Roc)

Weller’s fifties are turning out to be one of the most creative, switched-on periods in his lengthy, largely fruitful career. Backed with a new sonically curious, musically fearless band, he knocked out his second new classic in a row with Wake Up The Nation. More focused yet even more diverse than 2008’s 22 Dreams rambles into mini-epics about reincarnation (Trees), agit-rock (title tune) and more. Weller seems game to explore whatever comes into his head, a one-man White Album with nearly the mojo of the Fab Four in his well-dressed frame. Wake Up The Nation is a call to arms without a specific agenda, happy to shake us from the modern malaise but unwilling to be programmatic. How truly punk of you, sir!